Are You Zealous For God?

Zeal is a difficult term. For one, you can’t avoid the religious, almost hyper-religious, tone of the word. One rarely hears about zeal without it being in the context of religious persecution. “ISIS zealously persecutes Christians,” or “The crusaders zealously brought Christianity into the Holy Land.” Neither one of these sounds like something a person should try to imitate. More often than not, when “zeal” or “zealous” are thrown into the description of something, it’s almost enough to turn people off to whatever is being described. “Lance Armstrong zealously chased victory in the Tour-de-France.” Yeah, the problem was his zeal, his obsession with victory. He couldn’t let it go. If he was less zealous for victory, maybe he wouldn’t have cheated in the races. Maybe he would have won fairly. But here is not the place to discuss what Lance Armstrong should or should not have done. Either way, we see the implication of the word “zeal” isn’t exactly a good one, and generally connotes an obsession with something to an unhealthy degree.

So we have a bit of a problem when we read in John 2:17, “Zeal for your house will consume me,” as Jesus dramatically sends the merchants and the money-changers out of the temple by overturning their stalls and wreaking general havoc. We then come to several different places throughout the New Testament where we’re told to imitate Christ (Eph. 5:1, 1 Pet. 2:21, 1 Cor. 11:1). The question arises, “How do I imitate a man who sent merchants in the Temple running while being told to love people like the merchants at the same time?” How can I love someone while apparently acting unloving toward them?

The problem isn’t a matter of loving someone and then stopping for whatever reason, though. Instead, it is a matter of the priorities of love. I full-heartedly believe that Jesus never stopped loving those merchants, even as he overturned their tables and poured their money on the ground. “But,” I hear someone asking, “how could Jesus do something like that and still love them?” Because in the priorities of Jesus’ love, those merchants were not in the first spot.

Think of it like this: A man has a wife and a kid. He loves both of them dearly, being willing to give up anything for their benefit. Now in this family, the kid at some point comes into conflict with the wife. In this conflict, the kid acts out and hits the wife. Now the man comes into the picture and intervenes, disciplining the kid with a quick spanking, then like a good father, explains why he spanked the kid, and tells the kid that he loves him. Here, we come to the point of the story. The man loved both his wife and his kid, but in the priorities of his love, his wife ranked first. This is why when it came to a conflict between his two loves, he chose to side with her. It isn’t because, if only for a moment, he stopped loving his kid for the sake of discipline.

Coming back to John, we see the same principle applied. Jesus loved the merchants, but he had a higher love to which he was much more devoted. But what is that higher love? By what authority could Jesus come into the Temple and tear down the market? Or like the Jews asked in v.18, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus gives an interesting answer. He doesn’t tell them “you’re making a mockery of the Temple,” and he already told them in v.16, “do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” No, He answers them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will build it up.” Hindsight and v.21 show us that he was talking about his own body, and it’s not an insignificant answer. When asked “What sign do you show,” he points to the resurrection. What was Jesus’ priority love? He points to the resurrection.

Jesus was entirely devoted to the glory of God and the witnessing of that glory by everyone. Looking at the Temple historically, you see the merchants were in the court of the gentiles. By doing business there, the merchants were actively hindering the gentiles’ ability to focus on God. Jesus showed his primary love by reestablishing the gentiles’ ability to worship God in the Temple, and then by pointing to the establishment of the ability to worship God everywhere.

If we are to truly imitate Christ, as we are told to, our priority must be the glory of God in the resurrected Christ. Whatever acts we do must point to His greatness. Remember 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.”

That is what true zeal looks like.

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4 thoughts on “Are You Zealous For God?

  1. Hi Samuel,

    I have to say I am impressed! You did a great job!

    I really enjoyed reading your post. It was concise, to the point, well thought out, and even used a analogy that someone could relate too. You made me think about my own zeal for the Lord, and what that should look like. Your post caused me to ponder how I need to lay aside certain things in life to focus on what’s more important for glorifying Christ. I think there is a healthy balance as we are to seek the Lord’s will while battling against our flesh and renewing our own minds moment by moment.

    Great Job,

    Matthew

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  2. Wow! Sam, That was such a great post! It’s probably slightly weird that your Shepherd is commenting on your stuff but honestly, I was really invigorated by your writing. The way you deal with the issue of English connotations and utilize an excellent metaphor impressed me so much! This is such an interesting topic where you could easily get stuck in the vast world of theologians and writings but you kept it simple, concise and powerful. I have been thinking about this for a while and your thoughts on prioritization of love were just what I needed to get past my own thought-block. I can’t wait to talk to you about this in person!
    -Josh Starr

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  3. I love how you picked out two of the hardest concepts (at least to me) to grasp from Jesus and the temple cleansing. I have struggled with understanding zeal too. One moment you are being told to have zeal for the Lord and the next, you’re being told having zeal is bad. Reading through your blog helped me remember that being zealous for God is a heart issue.
    I also really liked the imagery you used of the family to describe the way Jesus felt in the temple.
    You wrote in a way that people in all different walks of their faith could understand. Great post!
    -Caroline Hiler

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  4. Aloha Samuel,

    I really enjoyed what how you described what Zeal is, from examples ranging from ISIS all the way to (Eph. 5:1, 1 Pet. 2:21, 1 Cor. 11:1). As the Christ was entirely devoted to Gods glory so should we as devoted. I completely agree with that you said and how we need to be devoted to exalting the worthiness of Jesus who is the fullness of Gods glory incarnate. Going back to your modern contemporary political comparisons know all over the globe, it exonerates that everyone will be zealous for something, ranging from extremely bad to extremely good.

    God bless,
    Aaron L. Conner

    Like

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